By Zoe Gray
Nutritionist, specialising in optimising fertility, healthy pregnancy and children’s health
It can be hard to know what to feed our children, with mixed messages about what is healthy and with the challenges that family life can bring; having the time, energy, and inspiration to provide fresh food for our children can seem an impossible task. However, with some support and guidance and determination, there is something we can all do to promote the health of our families.
Children are laying down their resources at this crucial age of their development and sub-optimal amounts of nutrients can affect not only their short term, but also long term health and disease risk. Exposure to undesirable foods and chemicals should also be considered and in modern life these often pose more risk than nutrient deficiencies in affecting children’s health, by using up resources and stressing the body. It is so important that children learn about food from a young age, so they grow up with the tools to lead a healthy life and the first priority in providing them with this opportunity is to ensure that your diet is healthy. Our children will eat like us and have similar food related anxieties so it is essential that we set the right example.
Here are some of my top tips for encouraging a healthy and happy relationship with food for your child and your family as a whole:
• Eat together and eat the same food.
• Cook simple but fresh meals. No company will have your family’s health as their number one priority, however healthy their advertising may suggest they are.
• Avoid drinks marketed for children, undiluted fruit juice, or squash; especially low sugar cversion as they are laden with toxic fake sugars.
• Your child’s calcium should be coming mostly form nuts, seeds and green vegetables or salad items rather than milk to ensure they also get enough magnesium, which is just as important for bone health as calcium.
• Set your expectations for what your child’s diet should be like. I often hear parents reinforcing their child’s dislikes by mentioning them in front of their child. Signals are easy to pick up on if you are not expecting your child to eat a healthy meal.
• Recognise that your child’s tastes will change rapidly and don’t let preconceived ideas about what they like hold you back from providing healthy foods.
• Don’t make a fuss if foods are refused and don’t give alternatives. If you do you are reinforcing the idea that you what you gave them was not good and giving them attention; reinforcing the behaviour. Avoid making a lot of fuss when they also eat well, as this draws attention to the fact that they have a choice in eating it.
• Don’t underestimate your child’s intelligence. Children start to exercise the newly found idea that they have choices and often randomly choose foods to do this with.
• By not eating junk your child is not missing out.
• Don’t use junk as a reward. Not only does this reward the child with something that will negatively affect their health, but also tells them which foods are most desirable.
• Realise that food company advertising will lie to you just as much as car and perfume adverts.
• Missing a meal because they are unwell or not wanting to eat their dinner will not kill them. If you force them to eat, food anxieties can be initiated and it goes against what their body is telling them. If your child has a consistently low appetite, this needs to be addressed and the causes looked into. You would need a one-to-one consultation for this.
• Take advantage of all the products and alternative items available in store, there are so many healthy ingredients to choose from and ideas. From junk-free chocolate and snack bars to nutritious flour alternatives for nutrient dense pancakes and breads. Chestnut and almond flour are some of my favourites.
• Don’t be too hard on yourself, nothing is perfect.
• The first step in improving most children’s diets is increasing sources of proteins. My recipe below is a nice idea for lunches especially.
• 1 large bell pepper
• 3 carrots
• 1 large onion
• 7 chicken eggs
• 3 rashers of un-smoked bacon
• Fry the pepper and onion in 2 heaped teaspoons of coconut oil and whilst they are frying grate the carrot.
• Add the bacon to the frying pan on top of the veg and whilst it’s cooking prepare the eggs by beating them in a bowl with a fork.
• Remove the bacon from the pan and chop into small pieces then return it to the frying pan and add the grated carrot and mix together.
• Beat the eggs with a fork and pour into the pan and mix with a spatula, then leave to cook on a low heat for a few mins until 1/3 to 1/2 is cooked.
• Place the frying pan in the oven (with the door open so the handle can stay out) for around 5-8 mins on 150 C.
• Leave to cool and then tip out onto a plate. You may need to remove a slice first to make it easier.
• Serve with strips of cucumber, peppers and cherry tomatoes with guacamole to dip.
For a downloadable version of this article, please click here… Healthy Happy Kids
Zoe is the founder of the nutrition practice ZNutrition providing personalised nutrition and lifestyle programmes specialising in optimising fertility, healthy pregnancy and children’s health. Zoe studied her undergraduate at the renowned Centre for Nutrition Education & Lifestyle Management (Middlesex University) where she is now a guest lecturer and is studying towards her masters in Personalised Nutrition. Zoe is passionate about health; believing that health is freedom. As a self-confessed foodie she believes that food should always be enjoyable.